Bloomberg Administration NYC Public High School Closings
How Are Queens High Schools Performing, Is School [not teacher] Performance Being Evaluated Fairly & How Do Public Schools Perform Vs Charter Schools
Is the Mayor trying to improve NYC school system performance or is he trying to privatize the NYC public school system? When I began a journey to better understand the issues surrounding public school system performance beginning about a year ago, I had no idea I would end this segment of the journey pondering the question articulated above.
Over the course of the past year I've attended a number of meetings and rallies held at public high schools in Queens concerning the performance of public high schools in the Queens school districts. My last visit was on Tuesday, April 17, 2012, when I attended the public hearing at LIC High School regarding the Department of Education recommendation to close it.
As I entered the building I was surprised to see such a large turn out for the meeting. An auditorium that seats nearly a thousand people, was nearly full.
Click here to read our report about the Bloomberg Administration NYC public high school closings in NYC Queens.
Bloomberg Administration NYC Public High School Closings
How Are Queens High Schools Performing, Is School [not teacher] Performance Being Evaluated Fairly & How Do Public Schools Perform Vs Charter Schools
I found a place near the front of the auditorium where I could tune into the debate over whether to close or keep LIC H.S. open. On the dais there were about fifteen speakers who included high school teachers, students and members of the Department of Education.
Eight Queens High Schools On DOE Closure List
The Department of Education's original target list for closures started with 33 NYC high schools. Seven high schools have already been removed from the DOE closure list, but none of them were located in Queens.
According to the NY Post it's unclear why these seven schools were placed on the list in the first place, given they earned A's and B's in their DOE NYC report cards. The Post opined that to keep them on the list would be to admit the NYC schools grading system isn't effective, but to take them off the list was to admit the closings weren't performance related, but rather an expression of Administration frustration regarding failed negotiations with the teachers union.
The eight Queens high schools on the closure list include: 1) Flushing, 2) Grover Cleveland [Ridgewood], 3) August Martin [South Jamaica], 4) Newtown [Elmhurst], 5) Richmond Hill, 6) John Adams [Ozone Park] and the two high schools [LIC and Bryant] which are the focus of this report. William Cullen Bryant High School, shown in the photo above, is located on the borders of LIC, Astoria, Sunnyside and Woodside.
DOE Impetus For Closures
The DOE has had a number of these Queens high schools on its PLA [persistently low achievement] list for several years. The DOE and the high schools have been working to improve these schools performance, albeit with mixed results. Up until this year the DOE had pursued a transformational approach, working with schools to improve their performance. At some point if the efforts didn't succeed, the DOE pursued a gradual approach in phasing in the new school(s) while phasing out the old ones in an effort to maintain stability during the transition. In the photo to your right is Shael Polakow-Suransky, Chief Academic Officer of the NYC Department of Education.
Administration & The Union Disagree On Teacher Evaluation Process
During the course of these changes, money was sought from the federal government to help improve performance. In 2011 LIC, Bryant and many of the other high schools scheduled for closure were promised federal funds, which they did not receive.
The reason the funds were not provided is that the Administration and the United Federation of Teachers Union [hereafter referred to as UFT] could not agree on the process for teacher evaluations. The Administration wanted their appointees, the school principals, to have total control over teacher evaluations; while the UFT wanted teachers to have a process through which they could contest evaluations if they felt they weren't being treated fairly. The UFT solution was to create a committee that would include one DOE representative and one UFT teacher representative and one independent party to adjudicate contested evaluations.
Queens Government Officials Do Not Support These Two Closures
At the opening of the meeting a number of government officials and / or their representatives gave speeches in support of keeping LIC High School open. It seems that none of the local, state and federal government officials representing the people of the school districts of LIC and William Cullen Bryant [hereafter referred to as Bryant] high schools support the Department of Education's proposal to close these two schools. Many of the local representatives also appeared in person at the Bryant H.S. rally on April 3rd. State Senator Michael Gianaris, City Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer and NYS Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas are shown at the William Cullen Bryant High School rally on April 3rd, 2012.
Socio Economic Factors At Play In Queens Communities
It's worth noting that all of these Queens high schools serve either a large immigrant populations and / or families that live at the lower end of the economic spectrum. Many of these high schools, including the two schools we chose to investigate, are located near large public housing complexes. The large public housing complex located adjacent to William Cullen High School is shown in the photo to your right.
I mention this, because studies indicate that the primary factors driving academic performance are parental support of academic achievement. Children under the age of 18 comprise 26% of the total U.S. population, but a whopping 40% of those living below the poverty line (1). Family encouragement, as well as resources dedicated to supporting a stable learning environment, affect academic performance and outcomes. And according to a study external factors comprise more than half of the difference between students in academic achievement (1a).
Other Factors Affecting Academic Achievement
The Vermont State Department of Health cites several key factors as having a significant impact of student academic performance. Factors include the bonds between students and teachers, as well as the social bonds the students have within the community. Other factors cited include opportunities for involvement, care and support, and expectations for behavior and achievement.
Destabilizing Impact Of Economy On Student Homes & Performance
The ongoing impact of the economic downturn may be destabilizing the home life of many of these students, and may be one of the contributing factors to the performance turned in by the students in these schools.
If this is the case, then does it make sense to further destabilize the lives of these children by changing 50% or more of the teaching personnel in these high schools?
Case Studies - LIC and Bryant High Schools In Queens
When I asked the DOE why they were closing LIC high school, they cited the school's attendance rate [80%] and lower ratings for the school environment, which is a measure of satisfaction with the school environment from a number of parties including mostly students and teachers. They did not cite LIC's four-year graduation rate.
For Bryant H.S. they cited the school's four-year graduation rate of 56% which is below the 60% threshold at which high schools must perform. Bryant H.S. has an attendance rate of 89% and received a B rating for school environment.
LIC High School Goes Through School Year Understaffed
In examining the causes behind the lower attendance and school environment rating, I followed up on the comments made at the LIC high school by one of the speakers who noted that in the 2011 - 2012 school year, LIC H.S. held 28 positions open for a period of 8 weeks. This means that LIC high school went through the school year with 15% fewer employees for nearly a quarter of the year.
Staff Hiring Done By School Principals
When I asked the DOE why they let so many positions remain open for so long, they told me that hiring is done at the local level. Upon further investigation of that statement I found that while all hiring is done at the school level, new hires are recruited and approved by the high school principal.
DOE Appoints Principals - Replaces 3 In Queens At Start Of School Year
It's worth noting that at the start of the 2011 - 2012 school year, the DOE replaced the LIC, Bryant and Flushing high school principals. Thus three of the eight Queens high schools scheduled for closure were managed by new principals just appointed by the DOE. It's not unreasonable to assume that the new principals executed their leadership roles, including hiring, in a manner in accordance with the DOE's wishes.
LIC H.S. Four-Year Graduation Rate Near NYC High School Median
In spite of the open positions and school environment ratings, LIC high school improved its graduation rate. One speaker noted that the LIC high school graduation rate of 66% is higher than the graduation rates of 200 of the 400 NYC high schools. By NYC graduation rate standards, LIC high school does not belong on the DOE list.
Demographic Factors of LIC and Bryant High Schools
LIC and Bryant high schools share comparable demographics. LIC and Bryant both have large immigrant populations who speak English as a second language. LIC H.S. is comprised of 61% Hispanics, while another 15% of the student population is Asian. At Bryant H.S. about 50% of the student population is Hispanic, while another 27% of the student population is Asian.
English Language Learners In Queens High Schools
A sizeable percentage of the Hispanic and Asian students know English as a second language, and therefore are categorized as ELL's [English Language Learners] who require special instruction in order to succeed. I was informed that ELL students must take anywhere between one and three ELL classes out of an eight class daily schedule.
Oftentimes this rigorous language instruction continues through the better part of their four years of high school. As a result, frequently English Language Learners are not able to complete their high school coursework within the four years allotted and this language handicap explains, in part, why the four-year NYC high school graduation rate is lower [about 61%] than the national average [75%]. The Bryant H.S. six-year graduation rate is 66%, while the LIC six-year graduation rate is 69%. In the photo to your left is a random photo taken at the Bryant high school rally in April of 2012. It pictorally shows the ethnic diversity of Queens high schools.
These Queens high schools provide a notable percentage of their students with more than four years of education in an effort to help them complete the high school curriculum. In the case of Bryant H.S., ELL's handicap the school's four-year graduation rate by a whopping ten percentage points [56% = 4 year graduation rate vs 66% = 6 year graduation rate]. Nonetheless the DOE makes only scant allowance for this NYC / Queens phenomenon, which is also likely at work in many of the other Queens high schools scheduled for closure [Editor's Note: Unfortunately Queens Buzz did not have the time / resources to investigate all of the Queens high schools scheduled for closure].
Five & Six-Year Graduation Rates - Better Measures For Some Schools?
Because of the rigor of learning English, many ELL students do not graduate high school within four years. Some in fact may take five or even six years. Because of the impact ELL's may have on the four-year graduation rate of a high school, five and six year graduation rates may be more appropriate measures of performance - particularly in large urban high schools serving students where English Language Learners represent a measurable portion of the student body.
Immigrant demographics, and the ELL phenomenon, was at work in the two schools we investigated; and based on what we know about the other Queens high schools scheduled for closure, ELL's are likely also affecting graduation rates there as well.
DOE Fails To Properly Adjust For Impact Of ELL's On School Performance
As we understand it, the DOE does little to factor in any adjustment for ELL's, by adding weight to five and six-year graduation rates in evaluating high schools with significant populations of English Language Learners. By failing to make such an adjustment for ELL's the DOE penalizes schools with immigrant populations, like many of the high schools in Queens scheduled for closure. These schools are being penalized for doing their job and sticking with their ELL students until they complete the high school curriculum and graduate.
As mentioned before, in the case of Bryant high school, their six-year graduation rate improved in the last report and stood at 66%, which as noted previously, was ten points higher than the school's four-year graduation rate.
High School Diplomas Bring Higher Earnings Potential, Higher Tax Revenue & Lower Lifetime Government Spending
It is beneficial to NYC and society as a whole to help these students complete their high school course work. On average, high school graduates during their lifetimes, make $130,000 more than dropouts. By helping students get a reasonably good education, it is estimated that over a lifetime, the graduating high school student will generate an additional $200,000 for the government through reduced government expenditures and higher tax revenue (3).
The Mayor, DOE & Charter School Advocates
At the end of the 2011 school year, NYC had 136 charter schools and authorization for 200. In June of 2011 the Mayor sought and won approval for 260 more charter schools, bringing the total authorized allocation to 460 charter schools in NYC. The Mayor has publicly stated that he wants to open between 25 - 50 new schools in each of his last two years in office, many of which will be charters. Currently NYC operates about 1,700 public schools, inclusive of charters.
The Administration has been an advocate of charter schools since it took office in 2002. News reports have shown the Mayor out stumping for privately managed / for profit charter school chains such as Democracy Prep, and the Mayor has also been publicly supportive of Success Academy which is run by former City Councilwoman Eva Moskowitz.
Lawsuit - Need Transparency Of Administration Relations With For Profit Schools
The Mayor's close ties to these privately run / for profit school chains is the subject of a lawsuit filed by the UFT. The UFT wants the Administration to turn over emails they have exchanged with the for profit / privately run charter schools. The first official request for these email exchanges was made over a year and a half ago under the Freedom of Information Act, which requires the government to turn over documents, which will not jeopardize security.
Some of the blogs we've read opine that one of the reasons the UFT is seeking this information, is that they believe the Administration is unfairly allocating public funding to the charter schools at the expense of the publicly run schools.
Study Results - Charter Schools Underperform Public Schools
Charter schools have been around since the early 1990's and hence have enough of a track record to enable researchers to evaluate their success. A Stanford University Study of 2009 showed that only 17% of charter schools outperform their public peers, while 46% of charter schools perform at parity with public schools, and 37% of charter schools under perform public schools. Stanford University [see emblem above] is one of the leading universities in the nation.
Subsequent studies indicate that a third of charter authorizers have not set standards for charter renewals, and charter authorizers revoke charter schools operations at a far lower rate than public schools, in spite of charter schools lower performance vis a vis publicly managed schools (4). At present one of the Queens schools scheduled for closing is the Penninsula Charter school in the Rockaways.
Study Results - Some Charter Schools In The Public School Mix Raises Overall School Performance
It appears to be worthwhile to have some public charter schools - as the private competition improves all schools' performance. The Stanford Study of 2009 indicated that when charters schools are introduced into the public school mix, all of the public schools performed better.
DOE Seeks Smaller Schools Because ...
A DOE spokesperson told me that the new NYC smaller schools perform better than larger ones. I asked him to provide me with a list of the new smaller NYC schools he was talking about [on April 19, 2012] and in spite of several follow up phone calls I have yet to receive any information in support of that claim.
It's also worth noting that new schools opened with less than 50 teachers aren't automatically unionized.
Lawsuit - Is The DOE Purposefully Causing School Failures?
A separate lawsuit has been filed by the NAACP and UFT alleging that, "the DOE failed to provide adequate staffing, support services, curriculum audits professional development, support / curriculum for ELL [English Language Learners] and special education students and collaborative plans to help struggling schools."
In essence the suit claims that the DOE is not performing its duty to provide a fair education for students in the public schools, including those with special needs, and in effect is causing the school failures.
In the lawsuit it is alleged that the Administration has done what is termed as 'constructive denial', whereby every 30 days - the time period in which the Administration is required to respond to the information request - the Administration sends a response, but one which falls to fulfill the request.
LIC High School - Claims No DOE Support
DOE says it will get federal money by closing / opening schools, which is one of the reasons the DOE is pursing this strategy. LIC High School is shown in the photo to your right.
Last year the Administration / DOE missed an opportunity to access $58 million in federal funds for high schools by insisting on absolute control for the Mayor / DOE / Principal regarding teacher evaluations.
As mentioned earlier the Administration wants their DOE appointed Principals to have complete responsibility for teacher evaluations without a process for redress by teachers. The union wants a committee hearing mediated by a third party in the event of teacher evaluation conflicts.
Is The DOE Schools Closing Plan Good For Students?
The Vermont State Health Department notes that key factors affecting student performance includes connections with teachers, social bonds, life skills like negotiating, opportunities for involvement, care & support, and expectations for behavior and success.
In light of these findings, the gradual transitions that the Administration has employed in the past appear to make sense, while the current Administration initiative seeking dramatic school closings and openings may not.
Queens Public Schools Closings - Hearing & Decision April 26, 2012
The Panel for Educational Policy or PEP will vote on the remaining 26 schools scheduled for closure on April 26, 2012. The public hearing / vote will be held at Prospect Heights High School at 883 Classon Avenue in Brooklyn. The PEP panel includes eight appointees of the Mayor and five appointees made by each of the borough presidents.
Queens High School Closing / Re-opening Procedures
Those schools for which closure is approved will close on June 30, 2012 and re-open on July 1, 2012 as new schools. We understand that none of the janitorial, maintenance and other non-instructional support staff of this nature will be affected.
All of the teachers will be dismissed. They can re-apply for their positions with the new principal / school, but less than 50% of teaching staff once employed by the school will be rehired. Employees who are rehired will be hired back with their seniority and pay intact.
The hiring committee consists of two DOE members, two UFT members and the principal who is hired by DOE.
Will Clean Up Sources & Add Photos Later:
1. Research paper published on education.stateuniversity.com
2. 1a - PISA study
3. Vermont State Department of Health
4. NYT Editorial 2.21.12 / Robert Balfanz - John Hopkins University School of Education
5. Stanford Study 2009
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